Superposition: 21st Biennale of Sydney

  • In an era that counts mass migration and the right to refuge among its greatest human-rights issues, asking questions about which kind of bodies are allowed to move through the world feels more urgent than ever.

    — Vault

    The Biennale of Sydney is recognized as one of Australia’s premier cultural events. Held every two years, the three-month-long exhibition is accompanied by a program of artist talks, forums, guided tours and special events, nearly all of which are free to the public. The 21st Biennale of Sydney, under the direction of Mami Kataoka, opened on March 16th, 2018. 

    Our assignment was to create a brand system inclusive of a variety of environmental applications and a microsite that visually represented the 21st Biennale’s theme, “Superposition: Equilibrium and Engagement.” Civilization developed the identity system and identity guide and worked closely with Sydney–based design studio Mira Yuna to execute a wide variety of print and environmental applications. Simultaneously, Civilization worked with Sydney–based development studio, Interaction Consortium to design and develop the digital platform to house the festival events and the archives of past biennales.


    The Wu Xing cycle of creation and destruction serves as a conceptual platform for the 21st Biennale of Sydney design. The Wu Xing philosophy is juxtaposed with the concept of superposition: all states of being existing simultaneously in equilibrium. We have translated the relationship of these two elements into visual dualities: order versus chaos, connected versus singular, and static versus in motion.

    Along with conceptual alignment — usability, flexibility, and modularity are important components of the 21st Biennale of Sydney identity design, given the myriad environmental and digital applications of the brand. The visual system is multifunctional. In addition to representing a structured representation of the Wu Xing philosophy—adhering to the sequence of the cycle–(wood, fire, earth, metal, water)–the shapes can also be overlayed creating background patterns that are the perfect solution for extending the graphic language of the design across large areas. These alternate iterations of the Wu Xing symbology represent the characteristics of superposition: fluid, amorphic, and ever-changing.